On Saturday morning, I start teaching a 4-session digital editing course for users of Photoshop Elements 8. I first used PSE as version 6 two years ago and used it quite intensively for about 12 months. After that, I was able to upgrade to Photoshop CS4 and left PSE behind. Returning to PSE 8 in preparation for the course has reminded me of just how incredibly useful PSE is.
The beauty of PSE is that its simplicity belies its incredible power. It has an interface far more welcoming and less intimidating than Photoshop yet, for photographers, it can perform, perhaps 80-90% of what Photoshop does. I would even be inclined to use PSE instead of Lighroom. To me, Lightroom is a glorified Adobe Camera Raw developer with a Library Catalogue attached. But what about two key essentials:
- Transformations to straighten building angles (particularly when shot with a wideangle) and
- Lens Corrections to remove the slight curve introduced with wideangle zooms
– both of which are found in PSE but not Lightroom.
But, be that as it may, while PSE has its limitations, I feel that it has more to offer than the average enthusiast can exhaust – especially if you are shooting JPEGs. I am amazed with “EDIT Quick”. A few quick clicks and boom – you’ve got a great looking pic. The “EDIT Guided” mode is a great way of learning what tools will do you. Overall, the “Help” that’s available behind each light bulb is, well, very helpful. Diligent learners will pick up all the nuances of the PSE simply with the various help options.
“EDIT Full” mode is where you can really optimize photos. I like adding adjustment layers and saving as Photoshop files to prevent any pixel destruction. Masks and brushes are available for even greater fine tuning. The nice thing is that converting to black-and-white and even adding a tone to the shot can all be done in PSE. By creating the B&W on a duplicate layer, you can also use the eraser tool to “paint out” some of the B&W to reveal colour beneath. Fun stuff and very compelling.
Two other great aspects of PSE are Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw that are integral parts. Provided you make some heads-up file management decisions (i.e. give your folders proper titles like YYYYMMD-DescriptiveTitle and your images proper filenames like YYYYMMDD-##-DescriptiveFilename), Bridge acts like a library that makes visually locating images very quick. Adding copyright, keyword and location metadata is easy through your own templates and/or by using the IPTC Core panel. From Bridge you can also access Photomerge and Picture Package tools. And through PSE, you can create greeting cards, photo books, prints, collages, even a web gallery i html or Flash.
Adobe Camera Raw is perhaps the most disappointing part of PSE. In Photoshop, I use ACR exclusively for exposure and tone corrections and a lot of fine tuning and it forms the basis of Lightroom. But in PSE, ACR is a bit handcuffed for my liking. It takes us back to CS2 in its lack of tools like Adjustment Brush and Gradient Tool. As well, there are no Tone Curve, HSL or Split Toning tools – all of which can be done through PSE, but I prefer to do this non-destructively in ACR so I’m not accumulating the significantly larger PSD files.
So, PSE is not perfect, but for $99 (1/7 the price of Photoshop and 1/3 the price of Lightroom) it’s amazing how much can be accomplished. All the Resizing, Cropping and Sharpening tools are there plus Art, Texture and Blur Filters, and the all-important selection tools. If you are shooting less than, say, 2000 JPGs per year, PSE is the way to go. If you are delving into RAW then PSE is still the way to go as ACR will get you started and PSE will allow you to finish photos – much like it was with Photoshop just a few years ago. The bonus is that Photoshop Elements is available as a 30-day free trial, so what have you got to lose?